Graphic Novel Review: Black Heroes of the West by James Otis Smith
Posted on June 1, 2021 at 6:30 am by Gene Ambaum
Black Heroes of the West by James Otis Smith. Introduction by Kadir Nelson. TOON Books, 2020. 9781943145515. 59pp.
The first true story of the adventurous and generous Mary Fields opens with her fighting off a pack of wolves, first with a rifle then with a torch and knife, during the time she drove a Star Route mail coach in Montana in 1898. (The life of Stagecoach Mary, a former slave, had many notable episodes. This one, along with the tale of her using a gun at a poker game when she was accused of cheating, are arguably the most action-packed.) In the next, Deputy US Marshal Bass Reeves uses guile and guns to bring in the notorious Clancy brothers. (As noted at the end of the book, Reeves fled to the Indian Territories as a fugitive slave during the Civil War, became the first black US Marshal west of the Mississippi, and the Lone Ranger may be based on his story.) The third is about Bob Lemmons who was famed for the way he brought in herds of wild mustangs by becoming the leader of the herd.
There are photographs and art works featuring black cowboys throughout (along with depictions of others that defy stereotypes like Mexican, mestizo, and Native American cowboys as well), and at the end there are a few pages of supplementary text about the true old west, its myths, and the three heroes featured. Smith’s storytelling is pitch perfect, and the photographs are inspiring.